Monthly Archives: March 2007

Staves and Serpents

We all remember the story of Aaron’s staff turning to a serpent before Pharoah. Then of course, as brilliantly depicted in the movie “The Ten Commandments,” Pharoah’s magicians do the same thing, but Aaron’s staff-serpent eats theirs. Divine recompense at its best!

But did you remember that when Moses and Aaron turn the Nile and all the water in Egypt into blood, Pharoah’s magicians do the same? What?!! Yep, check out Exod 7:22, “But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts.” Isn’t that crazy? They turned their water supply to blood just to show Pharoah they had magic power.

I bet they got thirsty.

The 21 Ecumencial Councils of the Church

I was thinking about the councils when I was in class yesterday and decided to make a list of them for myself, so I thought I’d share it with you. Here it is. Notice that the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” which takes place in the Book of Acts is not numbered in the 21. Also, notice the cluster of councils in the medieval era, especially in the 1100 and 1200’s. It was a time when politics and religion mixed a lot more than they do now, so the Church had a lot on her hands, so to speak.

A List of the 21 Ecumenical Councils
0. Jerusalem – 50
1. Nicea – 325
2. Constantinople – 381
3. Ephesus – 431
4. Chalcedon – 451
5. Constantinople II – 553
6. Constantinople III – 680-681
7. Nicea II – 787
8. Constantinople IV – 869
9. Lateran I – 1123
10. Lateran II – 1139
11. Lateran III – 1179
12. Lateran IV – 1215
13. Lyons I – 1245
14. Lyons II – 1274
15. Vienna – 1311-13
16. Constance – 1414-18
17. Basle/Ferrara/Florence – 1431-39
18. Lateran V – 1512-17
19. Trent – 1545-63
20. Vatican I – 1869-70
21. Vatican II 1962-1965

Contagious Holiness

I found this great material in a book called “Temples and Temple Service in Ancient Israel” by Menahem Haran (Oxford 1978). I thought you might enjoy it.

“A non-priest may not touch any piece of furniture, no matter how insignificant, in the tabernacle. This prohibition creates a drastic and clear-cut distinction between the sphere of cult and the rest of the world, and acts as a protective barrier round the most extreme degree of holiness. For all pieces of furniture are endowed with a contagious holiness, that is, that can be transmitted from one object to another.
The concept of contagious holiness in the Old Testament is by no means restricted to P [footnote 1], but the particular emphasis given to it here is indeed one of the distinguishing characteristics of this source. It is conceived of as being virtually intangible, a physical entity, the existence and activity of which can be sensorially perceived. Any person or object coming into contact with the altar (Exod 29:37) or any of the articles of the tabernacle furniture (30:29) becomes ‘holy’, that is, contracts holiness and, like the tabernacle appurtenances themselves, becomes consecrated. At the opposite extreme there is a tangible, contagious defilement. But contagious holiness has one advantage over the latter: it cannot be removed from a person or object. It is possible to purify one who has contracted uncleanness since this substance may be thrust out of the community and into the desert [footnote 2]. Contagious holiness, by contrast, actually exists at the very centre of the camp, in the tabernacle, and we are told of no activity or rite which can deprive a person or object of it. Complete avoidance of all contact with this holiness is an absolute necessity, for anyone who contracts it is liable to meet an immediate death at the hands of heaven.” (pp175-176)

I think this concept may help Catholics better understand the sacramentality of certain objects and the significance of the indelible mark of baptism.

Three Archaeological Questions About Genesis

I was rereading Genesis this week and three passages struck me as having archaeological implications. That is, they may indicate prospective archaeological finds. Here they are:

1.) Gen 14:10 “Now the Valley of Siddim was full of bitumen pits, and as the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, some fell into them, and the rest fled into the hill country.” (ESV)

2.) Gen 50:2-3 “And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming.” (ESV)

3.) Gen 50:26 “So Joseph died, being 110 years old. They embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” (ESV)

1.Now, I am not a student of archaeology, but it seems that the bitumen pits could easily have preserved a handful of the people who fell into them, much like the bogs in Ireland have preserved some very ancient bodies. The most famous was National Geographic’s “Bog Man” who was apparently murdered and then thrown into a bog. He was incredibly well-preserved: skin, organs and even clothes. I don’t know if bitumen, which is a liquidy component of asphalt, has the same preservative properties. But if it does, we might be able to find these bodies. Hmmm…talk about “knowing where the bodies are buried!” I found an article on this passage but haven’t had time to go read it yet: J.A. Emerton. “The Riddle of Genesis XIV.” Vetus Testamentum 1971. (I don’t have volume number or page numbers.)

2. According to this passage, Jacob was certainly mummified in the Egyptian style. That means that his mummy could be unearthed and observed.

3. Likewise, Joseph’s mummy must also be somewhere. The biblical text does not clarify if he was buried in Egypt or Palestine.

After mulling this over, I found the Cave of Machpelah (a.k.a. Ma’arat HaMachpelah, Ibrahimi Mosque). This is the tomb in which are buried Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Leah and possibly Joseph. It is venerated as a holy site by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. Herod the Great built a massive structure over the tomb, which is now used as a mosque. Unfortunately, the Muslim authorities which control the site have prevented archaeologists from descending into the actual tomb. But a handful of medieval accounts of “excavations” of the tomb survive and apparently, when the Israelis briefly had control of the site in 1967, a girl named Michal was lowered into the tomb to investigate it, but wasn’t able to gain access to certain parts of it.

Needless to say, there is something down there at the Ibrahimi Mosque which deserves the attention of archaeologists. Finding the tomb which contained the bones of the Patriarchs and their wives would be amazing and would completely throw off a lot of theories about Genesis. Again, I am not an archaeology student so I am not familiar with the scholarly consensus (if there is one) on the caves beneath the Ibrahimi Mosque. Since no excavations have been allowed, I doubt there is much to say. And I’m not quite sure how the bones of the Patriarchs could be identified.

However, if archaeologists are ever allowed beneath Ibrahimi mosque and they happen to find a mummy of a certain man named Ya’akov and his son Yosef, then all bets are off. Israel made it to Egypt. Most scholars regard all the “Israel in Egypt” stories as historical hogwash and the exodus no better than a science ficiton novel. But if authentic Egyptian-style mummies are found in the Cave of Machpelah, the whole discipline of Pentateuch studies would be thrown on its head.

Wikipedia on Tomb of the Patriarchs

UPDATE 3/10/07:
According to Josh 24:32, Joseph’s bones were brought up by the Israelites during the exodus and buried at Shechem, not in the Cave of Machpelah: “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph.” (Josh 24:32 ESV)

Jesus Tomb Story

This Sunday, Discovery channel is going to air a documentary entitled “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” The basic claim of the film, directed by James Cameron of “Titanic” fame, is that a tomb excavated in 1980 contained the tomb of Jesus himself, plus his “wife” Mary Magdalene, his child Judah and Joseph and Mary. The claims are far-fetched, but the data is complex. The best sorting through of all the data I’ve found is on Ben Witherington’s blog, he also had a column in the front section of the Wall Street Journal today.

Check out these links on Ben Witherington’s blog:
March 1
February 28
February 27

The link to “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” website.
The link to the book “The Jesus Family Tomb.”

UPDATE: Check out Richard Bauckham’s statement on the tomb
Also, Bauckham’s own corrections.